Christian Bien takes us through his impressive run with Modern Goblins at the Cardmarket Series Modern Main Event in Frankfurt last month, with some thoughts on how things have changed since the Banned & Restricted announcement shook things up. 

It’s been said that many a good article can be kicked off with a stellar quote. So here goes:

“Not since the days of Pashalik Mons have the Rundvelt goblins been so united or effective.” —Goblin Warchief [Dominaria]

And that’s exactly why we are here today. Goblins are back on the map, this time in Modern. I’m here to share with you my experience of piloting Modern Goblins to a 8-1-1 finish (Top 8) at the Cardmarket Series Modern Main Event in Frankfurt on August 3rd. I’ll also be looking at my experiences playing Goblins in general.

I will say up front that I’m not an expert of the format, but I have played Goblins in Legacy for a bit over a decade now. So I would say that I have at least a basic understanding of how the deck works, what cards are good and bad against which archetypes, and so on. 

Pashalik Mons by Even Amundsen

Pashalik Mons by Even Amundsen

Modern Goblins: The Decklist

Let’s start with discussing the decklist—that’s what you’re here for, right? The below decklist was created and fine-tuned during countless hours of play-testing with my dear friend Björn Damjonat (thanks Bro!):

Modern Goblins

Creatures (35)
Skirk Prospector
Frogtosser Banneret
Goblin Warchief
Goblin Matron
Goblin Ringleader
Krenko, Mob Boss
Goblin Piledriver
Sling-Gang Lieutenant
Munitions Expert
Mogg Fanatic
Mogg War Marshall

Artifacts (4)
Aether Vial
Lands (21)
Cavern of Souls
Auntie's Hovel
Bloodstained Mire
Blood Crypt
Fiery Islet
Sunbaked Canyon
Field of Ruin

Sideboard (15)
Leyline of the Void
Blood Moon
Damping Sphere
Earwig Squad
Goblin Trashmaster
Goblin Cratermaker

So let’s lower some eyebrows that have just been raised.

Yes, twenty-one lands. I know, this gives some people who know the deck from Legacy a heart-attack—but remember, I’m a basically a Legacy-only player myself. I started at twenty-three lands, like you would normally do. Then I lowered the land count over time, since I found myself flooded quite often. Here is why: in Modern, there is no effective land-destruction. No Wasteland, no Rishadan Port, no Winter Orb, Back to Basics, Stifle—you name it. That means your lands (even your non-basic lands) will stick around for quite some time. And what’s more, some decks are playing removal spells like Path to Exile and Assassin’s Trophy; they do a lot to help you make land drops in those games. Last, but not least, we have the London mulligan now, which reduces the risk of taking a mulligan into a one-lander.

I want to add here that Goblins mulligans quite well, because the deck has a powerful card advantage engine in Goblin Matron and Goblin Ringleader once the game progresses. You will notice that there are two Modern Horizons canopy-lands in my list and two Field of Ruin. I’m using the non-mana abilities of the cycle lands a lot more often than I’m using Field of Ruin, but that probably has to do with the amount of Tron decks I have faced so far.   

I can make the same argument of “your stuff sticks around” for the other keycards in this deck too. Again, this is not Legacy, so there is no Force of Will, no Daze, no end-of-turn Brainstorm that finds a removal spell for your cost-reducers. If you are going first, your turn one Aether Vial will resolve. Period.

Technically, there is Force of Negation—but hey, I’m willing to take that risk. Even then, you have just Hymn-to-Tourarched your opponent in a format where that card isn’t even legal! While we’re on the topic of removal spells: though it could be argued that there is more spot removal in Modern than there is in Legacy, a lot of decks are very bad at finding it, because their cantrips aren’t as good. Frogtosser Banneret and Goblin Warchief are almost as important as Aether Vial because they will sometimes “produce” the same amount of mana during your games. I have cast Ringleaders (plural) for R (that is: one single red mana) during the above-mentioned Cardmarket Series event—most of the time I had to pay 1R though (if it didn’t enter the battlefield via Aether Vial). In many ways Frogtosser Banneret and Goblin Warchief fulfill a similar role to Goblin Electromancer and Baral, Chief of Compliance in Blue-Red Storm.

Krenko, Mob Boss

Krenko, Mob Boss by Karl Kopinski.

Considering that Skirk Prospector turns Mogg War Marshal into a Desperate Ritual and that Goblin Ringleader is a very powerful Peer Through Depths for this deck, I should make one point crystal clear: this version of Goblins is not an aggro deck.

Did somebody say “combo” just now? Good, because that leads us to Krenko, Mob Boss. Three copies are barely enough. My decklist is pretty much designed to resolve this guy, and it’s one of the few cards that distinguishes us from other decks in the format. If no other deck is playing a similar effect, you are probably attacking from an angle that people are not prepared for—even if that just means you have a second copy up your sleeve after your first one gets discarded or destroyed. I know the arguments against Krenko, like that it does nothing on an empty board, or that it’s a win-more type of card (whatever that means). I’m thinking of it more as a win-now card instead.

Sure, there will be situations where resolving something else instead of Krenko will win the game as well, just one or two turns later. But don’t you want to be able to K.O. your opponent with just Frogtosser and Warchief in play? With that board state, any Matron will be able to fetch and resolve a Krenko for the cost of RRR, putting at least four additional creatures into play. Put a Skirk Prospector next to it and you can cast a Ringleader off those tokens for just RR. Or a Goblin Piledriver, and attack for twenty-three points of damage. You get the point.

As anecdotal evidence, I have cast two Krenkos on the same turn three this weekend. In case you are wondering how that works, I’ll break it down real quick: Play Aether Vial on turn one, Frogtosser Banneret on turn two, and put a Skirk Prospector into play off your Vial. Then proceed to turn three, cast Goblin Warchief for RR, put Mogg War Marshal into play off Vial, sacrifice Mogg War Marshal for R (and tap your third land for R) and cast Krenko, Mob Boss. Next, tap Krenko to create 6 tokens, sacrifice one of them for R, cast Goblin Matron and get another Krenko, then sacrifice a token and Krenko #1 for RR and cast Krenko #2, which now creates eleven tokens. You can pull off nasty stuff like this way more often than you would think; and your opponents don’t really see it coming either, even when you pass the turn with just two Lands, Frogtosser Banneret, and a Vial with one counter in play.

The last card that might seem a bit out of place (at least it did to me!) is Mogg Fanatic. The card wasn’t in my decklist until maybe nine hours before the event started. It got there because my dear friend Marcelo Scatena suggested it to me while we were having a delicious dram of Glenfiddich with IPA-cask-finish (of which I’m having another sip while writing this). He told me to credit Steve (I only know him as “Salty Steve”) from Australia for that—so there.

Mogg Fanatic has been a bit of an ‘Australian’ Army Knife for me so far. Not just capable of raising your goblin count for cards like Piledriver, Krenko, and our shark-tossing all-star Munitions Expert; its activated ability allowed me to make some really efficient plays. I was able to effectively double-block Phantasmal Image plus another creature against Humans, minus-two Wrenn and Six, and straight up kill Dark Confidant, Thalia, Guardian of Thraben and Noble Hierarch on sight. I’m looking forward to making this “kill” list even longer as I get more experience with this card.

The Event

We went to the event site and I had a terrible headache, sponsored by Glenfiddich. Luckily my spirit-animal is a Psyduck, so I was able to channel my headaches into some pretty sweet plays. My 5-0 run was broken after I took a painkiller, right before round six. (Coincidence? I don’t think so.) I didn’t take detailed notes, but instead here is a list of the matchups I faced:

Round 1: David playing Urza Combo, 2-0 (cards taken with Ringleader: 0)
Round 2: Julian playing Hogaak Dredge,  2-1 (cards taken with Ringleader: 0)
Round 3: Toni playing BG Midrange, 2-1 (cards taken with Ringleader: 9)
Round 4: Samuel playing BG Midrange, 2-0 (cards taken with Ringleader: 6)
Round 5: Nicolai playing Humans, 2-1 (cards taken with Ringleader: 9)

Round 6: Eric playing Jund, 1-2 (cards taken with Ringleader: 5)
This round was played in the feature match area. You can find it here.

Eric ended up winning that event. This match and the corresponding video will give you a perfect example of what happens when my “your stuff sticks around” notion doesn’t apply—most cards in Jund are a giant “No” to any of your key cards. After all, sometimes your stuff just doesn’t stick around.

Round 7: Patrick playing UR Storm, 2-1 (cards taken with Ringleader: 3)
Round 8: Pierre playing Mono R Phoenix/Prowess, 2-1 (cards taken with Ringleader: 5)
Round 9: Volkan playing Eldrazi, 2-0 (cards taken with Ringleader: 9)
Round 10: Stefan playing Urza Combo, #ID (cards drawn with Ringleader: 8—we played a best of 3 for fun)

Cool, I was in for Top 8! However, after thirteen hours of playing magic my headaches returned and teamed up with an unbearable longing for food. The Top 8 players agreed to split prizes and brawled it out for the trophy. However, since this trophy is neither edible nor a painkiller, I decided to drop out from the elimination rounds.

Rounding Up

Right before the Top 8 elimination rounds started, I was asked to fill out that sheet of paper that asked “What would you change about your deck and why?” I wrote that, if Hogaak gets banned I would cut Leyline of the Void to make room for something that fixes the Jund matchup. If you asked me again I would say something else however. Reviewing the other (non-Hogaak) matchups again, I found that Leyline was very relevant at least against Mono Red Phoenix and Urza Combo. It’s even okay versus Storm, because you can board out ten cards anyway.

Once the dust of the latest B&R announcement has settled, we will find out if Leyline still deserves a spot in the sideboard. The maindeck will mostly likely stay as it is to maintain that feeling of a well-working synergistic combo deck. If anything, I would consider only very minor changes (no, cutting Krenko is not on my to-do list). I didn’t like Field of Ruin in testing, because the deck (or rather: this list) is always in need of colored mana. I felt like it could handle the two colorless sources, but apparently it can’t (probably for the same reason UR Storm and Mono R Phoenix aren’t playing Field of Ruin either).

I didn’t exactly fall in love with Field of Ruin during the event either, and I know this is because I wasn’t paired against Tron. If Tron decks rise in popularity and if they turn out to be problematic matchups, I might sooner grab Ghost Quarter because it plays more easily on curve. For now I’m going to cut Field for one more Auntie’s Hovel and another Modern Horizons canopy land and see how that goes. In the end, it’s not my job to throw lands at my opponents to solve a problem—that’s what Titanshift does. My credo is:

“Throw enough goblins at any problem and it should go away. At the very least, there’ll be fewer goblins.” Goblin Piledriver [Onslaught]

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